Vice President Mike Pence defied President Donald Trump early Thursday morning as he affirmed President-elect Joe Biden’s November victory, putting an end to Trump’s futile efforts to subvert American democracy and overturn the results of the election.
In a move that infuriated Trump and left his own political future far less certain, Pence on Wednesday acknowledged that he did not have the power to unilaterally throw out electoral college votes as Trump and some of his attorneys had wrongly insisted.
Pence, as the session came to an end, said the count “shall be deemed a sufficient declaration” of Biden’s victory, but offered no words of congratulations to the incoming administration. It capped an extraordinary day of chaos, violence and division after a pro-Trump mob stormed the Capitol, sending lawmakers into hiding and delaying the proceeding.
Under normal circumstances, the vote-tallying procedure would be a mere formality — the final step in the complicated technical process of electing a new administration. But after losing court case after court case and with no further options at hand, Trump and his allies had zeroed in on January 6 as their last ditch chance to try to influence the outcome.
They spent days in a futile bid trying to convince Pence that the vice president had the power to reject electors from battleground states that voted for Biden, even though the Constitution makes clear the vice president’s role in the joint session is largely ceremonial, much like a master of ceremonies.
Pence acknowledged that reality in a lengthy statement Wednesday laying out his conclusion that a vice president cannot claim “unilateral authority” to reject states’ electoral votes.
“It is my considered judgment that my oath to support and defend the Constitution constrains me from claiming unilateral authority to determine which electoral votes should be counted and which should not,” Pence wrote in a letter to members of Congress that was released shortly before he gaveled in the joint session of Congress. Not long after, the angry mob swarmed the Capitol, overwhelmed police and halted the proceeding that had been underway.
Pence’s move was an expected outcome, but one that carved a dramatic fissure between Trump and Pence, his once most loyal lieutenant. In a dramatic split screen, Pence released the statement just after he arrived at the Capitol to tally the votes and as the president was telling thousands of supporters gathered near the White House that Pence could overturn them if he wanted.
“If Mike Pence does the right thing we win the election,” Trump wrongly told supporters, who later marched through Washington and stormed the Capitol. He repeatedly returned to Pence throughout his speech, voicing frustration as he tried to pressure the vice president to fall in line.
“Mike Pence is going to have to come through for us. And if he doesn’t, its a sad day for our country,” he said.
Trump, who has spent the last two months refusing to acknowledge his defeat, later tweeted his disapproval.
“Mike Pence didn’t have the courage to do what should have been done to protect our Country and our Constitution, giving States a chance to certify a corrected set of facts, not the fraudulent or inaccurate ones which they were asked to previously certify,” he wrote. “USA demands the truth!”
Pence, too, was fuming.
“I’ve known Mike Pence forever,” Republican Sen. Jim Inhofe of Oklahoma told Tulsa World. “I’ve never seen Pence as angry as he was today.”
“He said, ‘After all the things I’ve done for (Trump),’” Inhofe added.
Despite claims by Trump and his allies, there was not widespread fraud in the election. This has been confirmed by a range of election officials and by William Barr, who stepped down as Trump’s attorney general last month. Neither Trump nor any of the lawmakers who objected to the count have presented credible evidence that would change the outcome.
While Pence’s allies had made clear that he intended to defy Trump and hew to the Constitution, the vice president’s move was nonetheless a significant departure for a man who has spent the last four years defending the president at every turn and carefully avoiding his ire.
Pence is eying his own run for president is 2024, and the episode could damage his prospects, especially if Trump — or supporters who were wrongly convinced Pence had the power to change the outcome — maintain a grudge. Even out of office, Trump is expected to remain the de facto leader of the Republican Party and a political kingmaker for years to come.
Trump spent much of Wednesday consumed with anger over Pence’s action, even as violent protesters swarmed the U.S. Capitol, forcing lawmakers into hiding and grinding the proceedings to a halt, according to a White House official who spoke only on condition of anonymity to discuss internal matters.
Pence was ushered out of the Senate chamber to a secure location as protesters breached the building. Pence never left the Capitol, according to his chief spokesman, and was in “regular contact” with House and Senate leadership, Capitol Police, and the departments of defense and justice throughout the ordeal.
“The violence and destruction taking place at the US Capitol Must Stop and it Must Stop Now,” Pence later tweeted. “Anyone involved must respect Law Enforcement officers and immediately leave the building.”
After the House and Senate reconvened hours later, Pence re-opened the proceedings and returned to the task of opening the certificates of electoral votes from each state and presenting them to the appointed “tellers” from the House and Senate in alphabetical order.
After hours of roll calls and debate, he announced the contests’ winners — Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris — formalizing his and Trump’s defeat.
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In support of political contributions
Most Americans don’t want CEOs involved in politics. A poll conducted last week by Golin and Ipsos found only 41% favored CEOs weighing in on disputed elections, and only 43% wanted them speaking out on impeachment. On the other hand, 74% say CEOs should call for unity and a peaceful transfer of power, and 57% believe it was appropriate for CEOs to speak out after the January 6 insurgency at the Capitol. That pretty well tracks with the way most CEOs and business groups have behaved since election day. They kept their powder dry until all legitimate avenues for disputing the election were exhausted, then came out strongly endorsing the election results and attacking efforts to undermine them. Relatively few have backed impeachment. (You can see the poll results here.)
But how about political contributions? That’s the question raised last week, as a host of companies—Marriott, AT&T, American Express, Best Buy, Cisco, Comcast, Dow and Amazon among them—suspended campaign contributions to members of Congress who challenged the election results. Another large group—Microsoft, Boeing, Blackrock, Coca-Cola, JP Morgan, Ford, GM, UPS, Goldman Sachs and Citigroup—temporarily halted all political contributions to members of both parties. (Quartz has a more comprehensive list of what companies did here.)
Some business leaders are even contemplating permanently shutting their political action committees and exiting the money game altogether. But absent a broader overhaul of campaign finance—which is unlikely anytime soon—I think that’s a mistake. Most big companies remain balanced players in the money game, dividing their dollars roughly equally between members of each party. Walmart, for instance, has kept its contributions at exactly 50-50. Their strategies have less to do with trying to influence outcomes, and more to do with assuring they have access to whoever wins.
The more important question for 2021 is how big business uses that access. There are a host of issues where business has the potential to help broker positive outcomes for the U.S. economy and society: economic stimulus, infrastructure, worker training, climate change. On each of these, business leaders occupy the center, and can help bring the parties together to solve urgent problems.
But on tax and regulatory issues, in particular, corporations will be playing defense. And they’ll be tempted to use what influence they can muster to seek tax breaks and regulatory exemptions that aren’t in the broader public interest. That’s where the commitment to stakeholder capitalism will be tested. The nation desperately needs business involved in government. But business, now more than ever, needs to use its influence to focus on solving long-term challenges.
Why Big Tech regulation is good for private equity, according to one CEO
Increased scrutiny of Big Tech’s power may have some shareholders sweating it. But not so for private investors.
With a new Biden administration and recent threats to crack down on some of the biggest tech behemoths (from Facebook to Amazon), there seems to be support for more regulation. And according to alternative investment manager Hamilton Lane’s CEO, Mario Giannini, that might be good news for the private equity industry.
“Reducing the dominance of large technology companies…is probably not great for some portions of the industry, but good for private equity,” Giannini tells Fortune. In Congress, which now maintains a slim Democratic majority, “I think everyone is interested in saying, ‘Amazon is too powerful, Google [is too powerful],’ pick your name,” he says, arguing there’s bipartisan support for more regulation.
As to what lawmakers do about it, “I’m not sure,” says Giannini, but “to the extent that they do anything to diminish the power of those companies, that’s good for private equity because it creates opportunity for smaller companies.”
To be sure, government scrutiny of large tech companies is a tale as old as time, but lately regulators appear to be turning up the heat on the biggest names: Facebook was recently hit with an antitrust lawsuit alleging it has squashed competition, while players like Amazon and Apple, big winners of the pandemic era, have found themselves the subject of government ire over antitrust concerns. Google, meanwhile, is in hot water once more for its search and search advertising practices. And companies like Facebook and Amazon could be facing their own headwinds in Europe, too.
According to Giannini, whose firm has $73 billion in assets under management and advises on $474 billion in additional assets, the dominance of those FAANG names has been top of mind for private equity firms when scouting for deals.
“Right now, when any private equity [firm] does a deal, …if it’s not their first question, it’s one of their top three questions: ‘Is Amazon going to enter this space, yes or no?’ And that has a huge impact—’Is Google in this space?’” he says.
It isn’t just an issue in tech. Companies like Amazon are moving into health care, for instance, by launching online pharmacies. “If all of the sudden the government [would] say, ‘I’m not going to allow Amazon to encroach in certain areas,’ then I think for private equity, oddly enough, that becomes a net positive because you do then have an opportunity with other companies,” says Giannini.
Though some on the Street argue the threat of sweeping legislative changes to hamper Big Tech’s reach is still minor, the new (albeit slim) Democratic majority in Congress poses “a clear negative for Big Tech as…we would expect much more scrutiny and sharper teeth around FAANG names,” Wedbush analyst Dan Ives wrote in a recent note.
For private investors, says Giannini, that just “creates different opportunity sets.”
More must-read finance coverage from Fortune:
- What job security? Americans are feeling worn down and fearful of layoffs
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